Road trip to Beantown

To have a good vacation you do not necessarily have to fly thousands of miles. That is our premise this year. There are not many areas left on the East Coast that we have wanted to visit. Since my brief trip to Maine a few years ago, New England became an area I wanted to see further. It is also reasonably close as it is only a long day’s drive away. It is mostly an undiscovered region for me. In addition, it has the virtue of being in my time zone. Jet lag gets old after a while.

Before heading to New England, we first elected to spend Saturday night in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. We spent much of the afternoon and evening in Mount Gretna, a near by and decidedly liberal (and well moneyed) township in the woods where respect for the natural environment is a high priority. Tourism accounts for a fair amount of its business. The Mount Gretna Playhouse hosts a number of shows during the summer. There were two last Saturday alone. We attended a performance of The Capitol Steps, which my wife and I saw for the first time in January. The Mount Gretna Playhouse is a covered amphitheater that is far larger than I expected for being in such an out of the way community. This time our 18-year-old daughter Rosie came along. A few of their numbers were familiar, but most were new or reworked. They seemed edgier than they were back in January and even funnier.

As for Lebanon, it is a sad declining city on the outskirts of Pennsylvania’s Dutch country. Like many cities in the Northeast and in Appalachia in general, it has seen much better days and it appears those days will never come back. Our stay at the Quality Inn in Lebanon was anything but. The hotel was musty. The free wireless was spotty. The free breakfast was non-existent. Our windowpane was cracked and there was dirt and mold around its seam. There was only one elevator serving its five floors and it was slow and antiquated. My daughter complained endlessly about her uncomfortable rollaway bed while my wife refused to take a shower in the hotel because she did not feel it was clean enough. It is at best a two star hotel. I hope that other Quality Inns have higher standards. Unbelievably, this was one of the less expensive hotels in the area, yet we still paid more than $120 a night for a room with a king size bed. We were glad to check out of the room.

Sunday we drove from Lebanon, Pennsylvania to Boston, touching five states in one day including two I had never been in before: Connecticut and Rhode Island. We elected to avoid New York City and navigated around it instead, taking I-81 to Scranton, then I-84 across the southern part of New York State into Connecticut. I saw some lovely and mountainous country I had not seen in more than forty years along the Hudson River. Connecticut charmed both my wife and I. We were especially intrigued with the cities of Waterbury and Meriden. We both ached to explore more of Connecticut, but we had to get to our hotel in Boston.

We stopped for dinner at an Applebees in Cranston, Rhode Island. For being the nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island seems to be doing quite well and Cranston was doing better than most, with expensive multistoried housing going up. Rhode Island surprised me because it was prettier, hillier and more prosperous than I expected. Cranston is also located next to Warwick. My wife and daughter are fond of the show Ghost Hunters on the SciFi channel. Two plumbers who are the hosts of the show now apparently make most of their money selling their alleged expertise in the area of the paranormal detection. Anyhow, we found their storefront for TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society, which was an otherwise indistinguishable storefront along Warwick’s main drag. I snapped a few picture of my wife and daughter in front of the storefront. Apparently, the ghost hunters were busy elsewhere that Sunday afternoon, but we could see through the door that they left a heap of fast food wrappers in their wastebasket.

The sun was setting and thunderstorms ahead provided an illuminating show as we headed north on I-95 toward Boston. Our GPS had been acting cranky and would lose its satellite connections after about an hour or so. Consequently, we used it only sporadically when it seemed fresh. It took us to our hotel well enough, but with the crazy roundabouts that populate Boston it took several attempts before we successfully got on the right road to the Doubletree Inn Bayside where we are spending two nights.

Today we spent the day trying to get a brief taste of Beantown. I had been through Boston at age five or so but had no recollection of it, so I was seeing it for what felt like the first time. Our hotel near the convention center was far nicer and cleaner than the Lebanon Quality Inn, but a bit pricier. I picked this hotel because it was just a couple blocks walk to the T, Boston’s name for its subway system. The T is an aging transit system and it shows, but at least it is reliable. There are just six stations between our hotel and downtown Boston.

Unfortunately, we did not have much time for sightseeing. Today was inordinately cool for August as well as overcast and periodically rainy, with high at best making it into the low 70s. We spent most of the day inside the Museum of Science, which is on an island on the Charles River. This was just as well considering the weather outside. An IMAX show, a planetarium show, lunch in the cafeteria and a couple hours of wandering the exhibit halls later, we had seen enough.

From there it was a brief subway journey to the Boston Commons, where we dodged more rain. We did not have time to do much more than look around, but our time there did cement our decision to come back to Boston sometime and see the city properly. We then took the T to Harvard Square across the Charles River in Cambridge, where we met a friend. What little I saw of Cambridge impressed me. Of course, it helps to have two of the nation’s most prestigious schools there, including Harvard University, which is right across from the station. It seemed that Click and Clack were right because we found a number of bums hanging out at Harvard Square. We found no sign of Car-Talk Plaza, nor of the law firm of Dewey, Cheetem and Howe.

Thanks to our friend, we did dine at Bartley’s Gourmet Burgers, which the Wall Street Journal proclaims as one of the best burger joints in the country. I certainly enjoyed my “This Old House” burger, which was both juicy and very hot. Their hamburgers have unique names, most with political affiliations. (The John Kerry burger, for instance, says he voted this the best burger before he voted against it.)

We should end up at Boothbay Harbor in Maine tomorrow night, followed by a day in New Hampshire, a day in Vermont, and two days in the Hamptons.

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